RELIGION ROUNDTABLE

All faiths can be evangelical

The word “evangelical” can act as either a noun or an adjective. One definition of evangelical (as an adjective) is someone who is “zealously enthusiastic.”

According to the National Association of Evangelicals, many evangelicals rarely use the term “evangelical” to describe themselves, focusing simply on the core convictions of the triune God, the Bible, faith, Jesus, salvation, evangelism and discipleship.

Unfortunately, the word “evangelical” as used today often takes on a negative connotation. It is taken as an extreme and used against people because of their views — politically, socially and economically.

I’m an Episcopalian, and we are often criticized for an apparent laziness where evangelism is concerned. I’ll acknowledge that we aren’t always as outspoken as we should be regarding our faith. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is helping us “thaw out” and become better evangelists. We are working diligently on becoming zealously enthusiastic.

In this politically charged climate, we need to be even more aware of how we hear and perceive terms — from the politicians, from the clergy and from our neighbors. Let’s try to refrain from judging too quickly or too harshly. Let’s think twice before speaking.

Personally, I think that people of all faiths can be “evangelical.” Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths are called to share the good news of their belief systems with others.

Consider these powerful words taken from the poet Henri-Frédéric Amiel:“Life is short and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So, be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”

— Robert Fowler, St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Jacksonville

It shouldn’t be a political term

Lately it seems that the term “evangelical” is linked with every political article we read. So, exactly what is an evangelical?

According to the National Association of Evangelicals, the definition is someone who “takes the Bible seriously and believes in Jesus Christ as Savior.” The association continues:

“The term ‘evangelical’ comes from the Greek word euangelion, and is ‘the good news’ or the ‘gospel.’ Evangelical faith focuses on the ‘good news’ of salvation by Christ.

“Historian David Bebbington provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a ‘born-again’ experience and a lifelong process of following Jesus.

Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform.

Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority.

Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross making possible the redemption of humanity.

“These distinctives and theological convictions define evangelicals — not political, social or cultural trends.”

The NAE defines “evangelical” by theology rather than by self-identity or denominational affiliation, and has determined that the best way to determine who is an evangelical is to ask what they believe.

— Beverly Mattox, Word Alive International Outreach

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